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Modern Wisdom / – #657 – Erik Angner – An Economist’s Guide To A Happy Life

Modern Wisdom – #657 – Erik Angner – An Economist’s Guide To A Happy Life

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In this episode of the “Modern Wisdom” podcast, host Erik Angner, an economist and philosopher, shares his insights on how economics can guide us towards a happier and more fulfilling life. He explores the intersection of economics and philosophy, providing data-driven perspectives on various aspects of human well-being. From the importance of setting realistic expectations to the impact of public policies on parenting, Angner offers thought-provoking ideas on living a good life.

Main Takeaways

Economics for a Good Life

  • Economists have data-driven insights into what makes a happy, fulfilling life.
  • Eric Angner blends economics and philosophy to create a usable approach to life.
  • Economics is a way of looking at human decisions and the various values that are at stake when making choices.
  • Economic tools can be used to address big problems such as crime, child rearing, climate change, family formation, and more.

The Role of Expectations and Aspirations

  • Happiness and well-being are two separate things, with well-being being what we have when our lives are going well and happiness being a mental state that feels good.
  • Lowering standards is not the solution to happiness.
  • Attaining goals can lead to a sense of pride and meaning, even if it doesn’t make you happy in the moment.
  • Expectation, well-being, happiness, and aspiration are all bundled together.

The Impact of Parenthood

  • Having children may lead to less happiness compared to not having children.
  • People with children have more meaning in their lives and feel part of something bigger.
  • Non-financial satisfaction increases when you become a parent, but financial satisfaction decreases.
  • Recognizing that having children is hard and sleeplessness is terrible for a person.

The Role of Money and Materialism

  • More money makes at least some people happier, but there are diminishing marginal returns as income increases.
  • Money, well-being, and happiness are correlated, but can come apart in certain places.
  • Comparing ourselves to others can lead to harmful arms races and opting out of this process can lead to more happiness.
  • Favoring simple things can make people happier.

Mental Health and Well-being

  • The four big things that seem to be indicative of happiness are poverty, unemployment, poor health, and religiosity.
  • Unemployment is a significant predictor of unhappiness, even beyond the loss of income, due to the loss of companionship and feelings of uselessness.
  • Regular churchgoers tend to be happier due to the companionship and community they experience.
  • Building a world that can accommodate people with disabilities is a political decision.


Economics and Philosophy for a Good Life

Erik Angner highlights the valuable insights that economists can provide into living a good life. By blending economics and philosophy, he offers a unique perspective on decision-making and the values at stake. Economics is not just about financial matters but encompasses various aspects of human well-being, including crime, climate change, and family formation. By utilizing economic tools, we can address these big problems and make informed choices.

The Importance of Expectations and Aspirations

Angner emphasizes the distinction between happiness and well-being. While happiness is a fleeting mental state, well-being reflects the overall state of our lives. Lowering standards is not the solution to happiness; instead, setting realistic expectations and working towards meaningful goals can provide a sense of pride and purpose. Expectations, well-being, happiness, and aspirations are interconnected, and managing them effectively can lead to a more fulfilling life.

The Complexities of Parenthood

Angner delves into the impact of having children on happiness and well-being. While having children may lead to less happiness compared to not having children, it brings a sense of meaning and connection to something bigger than oneself. Parenthood involves sacrifices and challenges, but it also provides non-financial satisfaction. Recognizing the difficulties of parenting and valuing the importance of sleep and self-care can lead to a more balanced and fulfilling experience.

The Role of Money and Materialism

Money and material possessions can influence happiness, but the relationship is complex. While more money can increase happiness to a certain extent, there are diminishing returns as income increases. Comparing ourselves to others and striving for materialistic gains can lead to harmful arms races and dissatisfaction. Focusing on simple pleasures and prioritizing experiences over possessions can contribute to a greater sense of well-being.

Mental Health and Well-being

Angner explores the factors that contribute to mental health and well-being. Poverty, unemployment, poor health, and religiosity are significant indicators of happiness. Unemployment not only affects income but also leads to feelings of loneliness and purposelessness. Regular churchgoers often experience higher levels of happiness due to the companionship and community they find. Building a society that accommodates people with disabilities is a political decision that can greatly impact overall well-being.


Erik Angner’s insights on economics and philosophy provide a fresh perspective on living a good life. By understanding the complexities of decision-making, managing expectations, valuing meaningful goals, and considering the impact of societal factors, we can navigate towards a happier and more fulfilling existence. By incorporating economic tools into our decision-making process, we can address big problems and create a society that fosters well-being for all.

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